Know this much: It’s not Mike Moser’s fault that he’s not being talked about more as a legitimate national Player of the Year candidate.
The 6-foot-8 UNLV sophomore forward is certainly doing more than his part.
A 19-point, 9-rebound, 6-steal, 4-block performance on Saturday in a 65-63 victory over San Diego State earned him Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honors for the fourth time this season. He’s as valuable a player to his team as you’ll find in the country, proving that both on and off the court this season. He’s also rebounding the ball at a rate that will give him a lofty perch in the UNLV record books after just one season of eligibility.
His coaches have sung his praises all season. Both the UNLV media relations staff and the Mountain West have put forth the effort to spread the word using multiple social media vehicles. The fans have wholly embraced him, even constructing a gaudy marionette of Moser that is 16 feet wide and 7.5 feet tall, which debuted in the student section on Saturday. He’s the best player on the West Coast’s best college basketball team.
So why isn’t the über-personable UCLA transfer in the conversation along with the likes of Kansas’s Thomas Robinson, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger or Kentucky super freshman Anthony Davis?
“I think most of it is just TV exposure and the fact that UNLV isn’t on (national) TV enough, and the league isn’t quite at the level of some other leagues in terms of being high profile,” said Jeff Goodman, who is a national college hoops writer for CBSSports.com. “I think if Mike Moser played for Kansas, for (North) Carolina, for Kentucky, for any of those schools, he’d be a stud. You look at a (Kentucky star freshman wing) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and he’s a better player right now than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They’re very similar in how hard they play, skill level, size, but Kidd-Gilchrist plays for Kentucky, and if Mike Moser played in Lexington, Kentucky, they’d love him, the country would love him a whole lot more just because of the fact that they get to see him on TV all the time.
“To me, if he played at a school that got on TV a lot, you’d be talking about Mike Moser as a guy in the conversation as a potential first team All-American. It’s simple. That’s it. That’s what it comes down to. Because he’s certainly good enough to make a similar impact elsewhere.”
The debate regarding the Mountain West’s current TV deal could go on forever. Heck, it has raged since its inception. Arguments over the distribution of games around the nation compared to ESPN, not having certain non-conference games televised at all and the difficulty for those outside of the region knowing where to find the games — depending on providers, too — are nothing new.
But in the eyes of the national media members who largely drive the bus behind building the hype for players in the race for honors such as Player of the Year, the TV angle of it all is incredibly relevant.
It also needs to be mentioned that much of the national college hoops media is based on the East Coast, where UNLV’s night games — 16 of UNLV’s 26 games this year have tipped at 7 p.m. Pacific time or later — simply start too late.
Goodman, based in the Boston area, is one of them. He was able to appreciate Moser’s game more than ever before after traveling west and seeing him in person for the first time on Saturday. But there aren’t very many other national writers with voices that carry strongly through various mediums who can say they’ve done the same this year.
At this point, it’s all about what a player can do to make many of the national media — or college basketball fans around the country — go out of their way to stay up late, tune in or come out and see a player in person. He has to turn himself into must-see TV with something out of the ordinary, much like BYU’s Jimmer Fredette did a year ago with his abnormal scoring ability.
Another one of those scribes who has made the trip this season is Andy Glockner, who writes for Sports Illustrated and SI.com. He was in town for UNLV’s 80-63 triumph over New Mexico back on Jan. 21, when Moser posted 14 points and 10 rebounds, but had previously trumpeted on Twitter for months trying to bring Moser and his feats to the nation’s attention.
“I think you have to be highlight-friendly and box score-friendly like Jimmer was, and there has to be a vacuum of candidates from traditional conferences,” Glockner said. “Somebody like Moser, who has good stats, does not stand out in any unique way. He doesn’t average 30 points a game, grab 15 rebounds a game, block six shots a game. You have to watch his impact to really appreciate how well he’s played all year. If you just look at stats, they’re not going to blow you away.”
So far, Moser is averaging 14.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. He also leads UNLV in steals, averaging a shade under two per game. Goodman’s comparison — Kidd-Gilchrist — isn’t far off, as the rangy freshman wing is averaging only 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a game for the nation’s top-ranked team, but also does all of the little things that don’t show up on a stat sheet.
The most notable of those for Moser centers around his rebounding.
After UNLV went two years without a player pulling down more than 200 rebounds in an entire season, Moser has 297 so far, including 215 on the defensive glass. What he can do with those defensive caroms is even more impressive, as he’s consistently taking the ball and pushing it up the floor himself with incredible quickness, keeping defenses on their heels within first-year coach Dave Rice’s uptempo offensive system.
After playing sparingly as a freshman at UCLA in the 2009-10 season and redshirting a year ago under Lon Kruger, Moser has been a vocal leader from Day One for the Rebels this season, both in games and between them. His contributions range from taking struggling sophomore Karam Mashour under his wing this season and working him out after games to giving teammates constructive criticism on the practice floor, no matter how much they might not want to hear it.
In many ways, he’s just as crucial to UNLV’s success this year as Fredette was to BYU’s a year ago, as he scored an eye-popping 28.9 points per game and led the Cougars to 32 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Fredette was also the rare case of a player from outside of the so-called ‘power conferences’ who did enough to capture the Naismith Player of the Year trophy.
If anyone knows that, it’s Rice, who was BYU’s associate head coach during Jimmermania.
“I think the common denominator was that our program was ranked in the Top 15 for most of the season, so winning is a big part of the equation, and we knew how big a part of that Jimmer was, and we understand the important part of that that Mike’s been for us this year,” Rice said. “His rebounding numbers are as impressive as anything you could take a look at. It doesn’t take long to watch Mike play and see how many different things he does.”
For comparison’s sake with the current top candidates …
• There’s really no arguing against Robinson. He’s the nation’s second-leading rebounder at 12 per game — one spot ahead of Moser — and is averaging 17.8 points per game for a traditional power that has overachieved in what was expected to be a bit of a down year. He’s a 54.6 percent shooter, the heart and soul of his team and has been consistent all year long. Robinson’s also done so for the team that currently ranks first in strength of schedule.
• Sullinger is averaging 17.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for sixth-ranked Ohio State, and done so while battling a couple of nagging injuries. A lot of his POY buzz, though, was created last season, when he posted similar numbers as a freshman for one of the nation’s top teams, then spurned the NBA to come back for another season. He had a rough go of it on Saturday in the Buckeyes’ 58-48 home loss to Michigan State. He had 17 points and 16 rebounds, but also 10 turnovers — by far a season high. But that doesn’t take much away from his candidacy.
• At 6-foot-10 with arms that seem to stretch for days, there’s no defensive force in college hoops this season quite like Davis. On top of averaging 14 points and 9.9 rebounds a game, his 4.9 blocks per outing are by far tops in the country. His offensive game is far from polished, but at this level, whose is as a freshman? He is the best player on the nation’s best team. Seems pretty simple.
• Creighton’s Doug McDermott seems to be this year’s token mid-major candidate. He may be losing a bit of steam now that the Blue Jays have dropped three games in a row, but what did he do to get in the conversation? He scored big, and that was his niche. Through 26 games, he’s averaging 22.9 points per game — third in the nation — and is shooting an unconscious 49.4 percent from 3-point range.
At the end of the day, will Moser getting the credit he truly deserves nationally matter?
The Rebels (22-4 overall, 6-2 MWC) are ranked 11th in the country, enter the week in a 3-way tie atop the Mountain West standings and, quite simply, just keep winning and winning.
If the individual accolades come, they come. If they don’t, Moser won’t be complaining.
“This year, I really didn’t know what to expect anyway,” Moser said. “I set real high goals and expectations, but I guess what I’m getting is what I deserve. I’ll just keep winning games and fight for more, I guess. As long as we’re winning, it’s fine with me.
“I assume if we keep winning, that buzz will come. Just got to be patient and keep doing what we do as a team.”